Siouxland Observer

Master of Science

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Winnebago Dakota Dispatch

In a long letter to the editor, published in the Dakotian, April 12, 1864, a reader “sickened” by a crime against Native Americans, urged the newspaper to “take hold” of the matter in earnest: “I beg the favor of a column in your paper,” a reader who signed herself Pro Bono Publico said, “for the exposition of a crime, on a ponderous scale, and which sickens the heart to contemplate.

"I refer to the Winnebago tribe of Indians and the treatment they are now, and have heretofore been receiving at the hands of those charged by the General Government with their protection, and who are supplied with the necessary means for that purpose.

“For several weeks past there has been a steady stream of these sickly, naked, starving and defenseless creatures down the river to some place where food can be had.

“Last fall, these same Indians, maddened by hunger, made a general rush in the same direction.  Then, the horrors of the massacre of 1862 were fresh in the minds of all; all feared an Indian, and the universal cry was — back with them.  They were met in their flight by the military, and back they went, into a bondage worse than Southern slavery.

“Now our people are ready to believe, what they then were not — that actual starvation impels their plight, and, in mercy, none obstruct their way, but give them a ‘Godspeed.’”

According to Lee Sultzman’s Winnebago History, the tribe lived for millennia at Red Banks on the southern shore of Green Bay.  In 1840, European settlers moving into Wisconsin forced the Winnebago west into northeast Iowa.  Not all left their homeland, but over the course of 50 years the search for a new home brought many in the tribe to the Crow Wing River in Minnesota.

They remained in Minnesota, even after an uprising by the Sioux in 1862.  But despite the tribe having nothing to do with the bloodshed, they were forced by the government into South Dakota to live with the Nakota, or Yankton Sioux.

The Saint Paul Press reported on the uprising, and its aftermath.  In a series of articles after the fighting they assessed the situation, the numbers and the disposition of the Dakota Nation.  The Yankton Sioux, according to the story published circa 1863, lived in 360 lodges and had a total population of 2,880 people.  They had a defense force of 576 warriors.

There was much written about the "problem" with the native people fighting to keep their land, which was vast. 

“The instructions of the Government, and the outlines of Lieutenant (G.K.) Warren’s map, alike, The Saint Paul Press reported, “indicate the proximate limits of the Dakota country — of that immense interior district from which the Sioux Indians exclude all other tribes.  The total area may be estimated at 200,000 square miles, or five times the size of Ohio….”

The Yankton had held the territory north and west of the Big Sioux River when the Winnebago joined them.  The alliance did not last long.

(The map is of the Big Sioux River basin and comes from Wikipedia.  It is shared in accordance with Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 legal code.)

“At this point, the Winnebago began to rebel," according to Sultzma.  "Many left the reservation and returned to Iowa, Minnesota or Wisconsin. The others fled down the Missouri to the Omaha Reservation in Nebraska. In 1865 the government accepted this and created a separate Winnebago Reservation (40,000 acres) in northeast Nebraska. During their many moves, many Winnebago never left Wisconsin. In addition, some had managed to stay in northeast Iowa and southern Minnesota when the main group was moved.

The Nebraska Winnebago held title to hundreds, if not thousands, of swampy wetlands along the Missouri River, which have now been tamed by a series of dams.  Much of the land is now farmed, which can be accessed on dirt roads west of the WinnaVegas Casino, owned and operated by the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska
When Pro Bono Publico wrote a letter to the editor in 1864 begging misappropriated monies be returned to the tribe, no one could have foreseen their fortune.  The Winnebago, according to the Dakotian, were given 59, 250 dollars a year to survive.  By April of 1864 a Supervisor Thompson had mismanaged over 100,000 dollars of tribal money (1,538,000 dollars today).

All tribes suffered, of course, and the corruption of the US Bureau of Indian Affairs is well documented.  But reading firsthand the cruelty visited upon America’s native peoples staggers the mind — especially given the current political climate of excluding entire groups of people from American life.

Pro Bono Publico said it best.

“The history of these Indians, since there removal from Minnesota, is one filled with genuine intense suffering, which will repay the humane to study.”

Have we learned anything?

Better days have come to many tribes.  Two court cases helped pave the way toward tribal independence, Bryan v. Itasca County and California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians.  Along with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) of 1988.

Not all agree, however.  Nicholas S. Goldin, Editor-in-Chief of the Cornell Law Review, wrote in 1999 that "the growth of casino gambling since 1988 represents (perhaps) the next inevitable stage of an evolutionary process that began a quarter-century ago when states began to use lotteries and horse racing to revitalize slumping economies," but….

“The theory that emphasizes the use of gambling as a tool of economic development adequately explains the growth of noncasino gambling at other points in this nation's history. Pressure on revenue-starved states to find novel methods of raising cash, however, alone cannot account for the recent explosive growth of casino gambling.

"Instead, as this Note contends, this recent proliferation more likely resulted from Congress's decision in 1988 to authorize Indian tribes to conduct high-stakes gambling.  By forcing many states to choose between losing revenue to nearby reservation casinos or to casinos in neighboring states and relaxing their own long-standing prohibitions on gambling, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 ("IGRA") catalyzed this recent expansion of casino gambling."

This 28,771-word document can be read by selecting this link (the pdf can also be downloaded).  But what it argues is summed up by the Note’s subtitle: “Casting a New Light on Tribal Casino Gaming: Why Congress Should Curtail the Scope of High Staked Indian Gaming.”  

Congress should not curtail the scope of high staked Native American gaming.  This would be a terrible mistake.  Instead, it is time to step back and restrict high staked casino gaming to Vegas, Atlantic City and our Native American communities.  The latter certainly deserves the honor.

Concerned community members no longer write letters to the editor.  Times have changed.  We visit the Winnebago tribe casino (follow this link for more information).  Or the community's Pow-Wow, a celebration of culture and tradition. It is wonderful.